Is your baby starting to eyeball everything that goes into your mouth when you’re eating?
Is he reaching out to try to swipe the food right out of your hands?
Introducing family foods to baby can be a very exciting time for parents.
It can also be pretty scary, as you try to work out what you can and can’t give to very young babies, and what they are going to like or dislike.
Does he hate broccoli, like you do, or love olives as much as his daddy does?
What exactly is this baby-led weaning you might have heard about?
If you want your baby to take the lead when it comes to feeding, here’s some information on baby-led weaning (BLW).
Let’s look at exactly what baby-led weaning means, when your baby can start eating complementary foods, and what the current recommendations are.
What is baby-led weaning?
Weaning is when your baby really starts to show preferences or dislikes for certain things.
In many ways, it feels like this is the first stage of understanding your baby’s personality.
For breastfeeding mums, it can be confused with weaning away from the breast. I like the term ‘introducing family foods’ much better, and it’s less confusing, but perhaps that’s just me!
Baby-led weaning is a way to introduce solid foods to your baby, and it’s a method that recommends you avoid spoon-feeding your baby pureed foods.
Baby-led weaning is based on the idea your baby will know when he’s full. Rather than spoon-feeding him until the jar is empty, you simply allow him to feed himself until he’s had enough.
It involves offering your baby foods he can grasp easily and bring to his mouth by himself. It allows him to learn to chew and swallow at his own safe pace.
For baby-led weaning, it’s recommended you choose foods your baby can pick up and which are soft enough for him to chew safely with the gums.
Check out When Can babies Start Eating Baby Food for more detail about the timing of solid foods.
What’s the difference between baby-led weaning and traditional weaning?
Traditionally it was recommended that parents would spoon-feed pureed foods to their babies.
They would prepare pureed baby foods in a food processor and freeze them in ice cube trays to be well prepared for feeding their little ones.
Baby-led weaning is different from traditional weaning. It allows babies to be in control of what they put into their mouths, under the safe supervision of their parents.
Traditional weaning involves a slow lead-up from offering pureed foods, such as apple or pumpkin, to gradually adding more texture to the food.
As the baby learns more about how to swallow solid foods, it’s suggested parents mash the food into a more chunky form so that he can learn how to chew.
Eventually, in a slow transition from puree, the food is given in ‘finger food’ style.
Some parents choose to give babies a mixture of purees and finger foods as a way of combining the two approaches.
Is baby-led weaning recommended?
The World Health Organization recommends babies are introduced to complementary foods along with breast milk, from the age of six months.
Research shows breast milk, or formula, continues to be the main source of nutrition until your baby is one year old; from six months, however, a baby needs extra energy and nutrients.
The growing obesity crisis highlights the importance of addressing our unhealthy relationship with food.
This relationship begins when we are very young, and so it’s important to encourage our children to foster a healthy attitude to food from a young age.
Baby-led weaning is all about trusting your child’s natural instincts towards foods.
When is baby-led weaning recommended?
Baby-led weaning is recommended from around six months, as your baby is most likely developmentally ready by that time.
A baby’s readiness to self-feed can be determined by motor development and dexterity.
Milestones are important factors in self-feeding and when to start baby-led weaning. Being able to sit up, for example, reduces the chance of babies choking, as they’re in a more upright position.
Another important factor in the baby-led feeding approach is for them to have lost the tongue-thrust reflex, which leads them to push food back out of their mouths.
This article by the Australian Breastfeeding Association shows the tongue-thrust reflex is usually gone by six months, which means a baby can start self-feeding around this age.
As it also points out, around this age a baby’s fine motor skills are usually well developed and their ability to self-feed is increased.
Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett have written a whole range of books and articles to give parents and health professionals a better understanding of baby-led weaning. You might like to read their bestselling book on baby-led weaning to get you started.
Studies show more research is needed to determine whether baby-led weaning is the most optimal way to introduce solid foods.
As a parent it’s important to educate yourself as much as possible, to help you make informed choices for you and your baby. Ultimately you know your baby better than anyone else, and can determine what is best for him.
Baby-led weaning pros and cons
Baby-led weaning has its good points and its difficulties.
- Babies can explore a wide variety of tastes and texture, which helps them be a little more adventurous when trying new foods, and possibly less fussy
- Making food easy to grab and hold allows them to work on their fine motor skills when picking up and bringing the food to their mouths
- You don’t have to make separate meals for your baby every time you cook for the family. You can just alter the food by cooking it a little longer to make sure it’s soft enough for your baby to chew and swallow safely
- BLW allows your baby to be more involved with the family at dinner time. He can learn by observing, and you are free to eat your dinner more easily, rather than feeding baby
- BLW gives babies the freedom of choice to decide what they like and don’t like, which builds healthy food association and greater independence.
- BLW can be very messy! What doesn’t make it into your baby’s mouth will most likely end up on the floor. It can be quite handy to have a dog to clean up the mess. Otherwise, a mat or plastic tablecloth is helpful
- Being too rigid about waiting until six months, or when your baby is showing signs such as sitting up and grasping food, can be confusing; a baby can do this a little earlier or later. If you have concerns, always discuss your baby’s readiness for BLW with your healthcare professional
- A baby who is unable to sit up, grasp food and chew and swallow by six months might miss out on the essential nutrients they need after this time. Some form of pureed food might be necessary to make sure they’re getting what they need.
Is baby-led weaning dangerous?
When they first introduce solid food to their babies, many parents are concerned it be might be dangerous, and their babies might choke.
Baby-led weaning allows your baby to learn valuable eating skills, like chewing, moving food to the back of his mouth, and swallowing.
Spoon-fed babies don’t learn how to move food to the back of their mouths, and this can put them at a greater risk of choking.
The most important thing is to make sure you always supervise your baby and never leave him alone while eating.
How do you prevent choking in baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning teaches babies how to move food safely around in their mouths; this should also make them less susceptible to choking in the future.
To see their baby gag is scary for any new parent. The gagging reflex, however, is actually quite important; it prevents large chunks of food going down the baby’s throat.
When feeding themselves, babies are unlikely to choke because the food will have triggered their gag reflex before this could possibly happen.
When your baby is starting to learn to eat solid food you can help him best by making sure the food is safe.
If your baby’s food is soft enough to be crushed by his baby gums or tiny teeth, then he will soon learn how to manage it.
It’s recommended to avoid foods such as whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, crackers, whole nuts, and popcorn; they can be choking hazards.
After six months it’s also fine to offer babies tap water in a sippy cup; this can help their mouths stay moist for swallowing.
If choking is something that really concerns you, you could consider doing an infant first aid course. It will give you confidence and knowledge about managing a choking episode while your child is eating.
Read more about this in Baby Led Weaning Doesn’t Increase The Risk Of Choking: Study.
How do you start baby-led weaning?
Most families start by offering food they already have handy, or food they have cooked for the rest of the family.
Offer your child a variety of healthy foods (such as raw fruits and steamed vegetables) and allow him to help himself to whatever he pleases.
Raw food should be soft enough for your baby to bite easily and crush it with his gums or teeth. You can check this by trying to mash the food against the roof of your own mouth. If you can do that easily, then it’s soft enough for your baby.
For the first couple of weeks, he probably won’t actually ingest much of the food he tries. During the early stages of BLW, mealtimes are about explorations into taste, textures, and flavors.
Your child will have lots of fun exploring the different textures, colors, smells, and tastes of the variety of foods in front of him.
What finger foods can I give my 6 months old?
Check out this list of great baby-led weaning finger foods for you and your child to make a start on:
- Soft cooked vegetables, such as carrots, green beans with strings removed, broccoli florets, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, zucchini, or beetroots
- Soft peas
- Ripe fruits, such as melon slices, peaches, or soft pears
- Gently softened apple
- Cooked eggs (the yolk can be slightly runny; who doesn’t like dippy eggs?)
- Toast fingers
- Brown rice or pasta
- Nut butter, such as peanut butter
- Soft red meats or chicken
Can I switch from spoon-feeding to baby-led weaning?
Some parents might be worried because they have already started spoon-feeding their baby out of baby food jars. Perhaps they had never heard about baby-led weaning and now want to change to self-feeding.
If this is you, don’t worry! It’s never too late to start offering your children finger foods they can grasp and bring to their mouth themselves.
All you need to do is start the process. You might even let your little ones hold the spoon themselves and learn to bring it to their mouths.
This can be fun and really messy at the same time. Try to relax a little and let them explore the texture and feel of different foods.
Can my 6 month old have scrambled eggs?
Parents used to be advised not to introduce eggs to babies under one year old; however, this is outdated advice.
Eggs are very nutritious for your baby and are a great source of essential minerals and vitamins such as zinc, and vitamins A, E, and B12.
They also contain protein, which supports growth, choline, which is important for brain development, and iron, which we know is essential to add to your baby’s diet after six months.
Whether it’s the yolk or the white part, eggs are a fantastic source of these vital nutrients.
It’s important to cook them well, as raw eggs can carry salmonella, which can lead to food poisoning.
Scrambled egg is great for your six-month-old baby. It’s soft and tasty and you can cook it in chunks so babies can learn to pick it up by themselves.
How do you cut a banana for baby-led weaning?
Bananas can be very slippery and squishy. And babies quite enjoy mashing up a banana instead of eating it.
The riper a banana is, the harder it is for your child to hold. Try using bananas that are fresh and not too ripe, as they tend to be easier to grasp.
I recently learned a fantastic way to cut your baby’s food so it is easier for him to grip.
Just use a crinkle cutter (the one you use to make crinkle-cut chips). It gives those slippery items, such as bananas, a little more surface to grip. What a fabulous idea!
How many times a day should I feed solids to my 6 months old?
WHO recommends babies start with complementary foods, after milk feeds, around 2-3 times per day from 6-8 months.
As they grow and learn, it’s suggested you increase this to 3-4 times daily from 9-12 months.
From 12-24 months, it’s recommended you offer your children 1-2 extra nutritional snacks, if they’re still hungry.
Give your child a range of nutritious foods, and avoid foods high in salt and sugar and low in nutrients.
It could take a few months until your baby actually starts to eat a decent amount, but don’t worry. He’ll still be getting nutrients from milk feeds during this time.
It’s very important to remember breast milk or formula is an infant’s main source of nutrition until 12 months of age.
Baby-led weaning recipes
Here are a few food options I have offered to my children over the years:
- Dippy eggs with buttered toast fingers
- Toasty nut butter fingers
- Oatmeal and chunky banana
- Mixed soft veggies and soft roasted chicken
- Soft fruit slices with yogurt dip
- Sweet potato wedges with avocado dip
- Pasta with creamy cheese sauce.
For more ideas about what to offer your baby check out 10 First Foods To Try When Baby Led Weaning.
For other great recipes check out the great BWL book by Gill Rapley. It follows BLW guidelines for starting the weaning process and has some great meal ideas.
Approaches to weaning your baby
The basic principle behind baby-led weaning is to allow your baby to explore foods, which will encourage him to be more adventurous in the future.
Letting your baby decide when he’s full will prevent him overeating and falling into bad habits.
It also means you don’t have to spend your Sunday nights slaving over a hot stove and blending butternut squash.
It’s much better to allow your child to eat when hungry rather than force him into a schedule that you have decided.
Some days your baby might be less hungry and therefore will not want to eat as much; on other days he might be going through a growth spurt and be extra hungry.
Don’t let it worry you. Just allow your baby to take control of how much he eats.
Hopefully, this healthy attitude to food will last him the rest of his life.
Whatever approach you decide is right for your baby and your family is just perfect.
If your baby is refusing to eat much food, and losing weight as a result, it’s worth taking him to the doctor or your maternal health nurse for a check-up.
You could also see a dietitian for nutritional advice if you are worried about your child’s food consumption.
It could turn out to be nothing, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.